The most recent school shooting seems to have tipped the balance. This time, students are protesting and there is a new determination to get something done. Certainly , this particular shooter had a long history of trouble that raised a number of alarms. But what, exactly, can and should be done?
The FBI has admitted “bungling” a report on the shooting by not referring it to the Miami office. But what system do they have for tracking people? How is information gathered from many different local agencies? If there is a database, what protections are granted anyone in it? How can you find what it has on you and correct it?
It suggests some kind of national tracking and identification system is necessary. If there is some action from this shooting, it raises questions as to how any new or existing laws might be enforced. Who is allowed to buy a gun? Or to board a plane? To vote? To buy protected medicines like marijuana? To even be in this nation? To work?
If you were to run down a list of hot-button issues which inflame the electorate on both sides, gun control would be near the top. The majority of the population favors stricter laws according to most polls, but those who are against new restrictions are much more vocal. Only 10% of the population favors weakening restrictions.
Given this, it may come as a surprise that in recent years laws regulating gun sales and ownership have become considerably less restrictive. This is due to a combination of reasons that start with a large Republican control of 30 state legislatures. Ultimately, however, the main driving force is a Supreme Court ruling which stated that the Second Amendment deals with individual, not militia rights.
Guns. There is currently no more emotional issue in the US and nothing that polarizes more. You’re either in favor of guns or you aren’t, and if you’re in favor of them the ownership of a gun is probably viewed as a fundamental right. There isn’t much room for compromise.
Into this debate we have a nearly constant litany of shootings, sometimes with legal weapons and sometimes not. President Obama has decided to act where he can, more or less working on tightening up the existing background check laws and enforcing them more uniformly and rigorously.
There was a time when gun advocates called for us to “enforce existing laws” rather than write new ones, but even this action is controversial. But it shouldn’t be.
The conversation among commuting comrades on the 94 bus turned to the San Bernadino shooting. More accurately, it turned toward it and then veered away:
“Can you believe this one?”
“It was like an place where they help developmentally disabled or something.”
“Yeah. That was messed up.”
Details established, the words trailed off. Anything more was beyond us this Friday morning. The same conversation, more or less, repeated at work:
“They were a husband and wife.”
“Yeah, they had a six month old baby.”
From there it went nowhere. Where could it go? What was there left to say?
Oh say, does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave
O’er the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?
Not according to Wayne La Pierre of the NRA, it doesn’t. He has a vision of a nation imprisoned and afraid, an America I simply cannot recognize. His call for a new security regime with armed guards posted at every school, every place where the vulnerable cringe with fear from gun violence, has drawn detractors from every corner of the country. That’s only reasonable, of course. But I have to thank him for starkly painting the picture as to exactly where we are going if there is not a change of some kind.
A school in Connecticut, a church in Pennsylvania, a trap set for fireman in New York – every week it seems there is another event or two. The corrosive action of fear creeps in like rust, never sleeping and eating its way gradually to our core. A change must come because this is intolerable. The change, however, must not just be one of law. The change has to be one from deep inside us as a people.